Cornell University

April 14 2014

Global Service Learning

India to Ecuador and back to India, two taking project beyond graduation

The ILR Global Service Learning program provides students opportunities to create solution-based efforts for community problems through collaborative work.

For Dipabali Chowdhury ’14 and Felicia Salinas ’14, global service learning trips changed their lives, as well.

Chowdhury and Salinas traveled to India in the summer of 2012; the goal of the project was to help create a process for people with disabilities to receive workplace accommodations.

“That experience ignited a passion for service work and social impact that we would not have found otherwise,” Chowdhury said.

According to Donna Ramil, the associate director of ILR’s International Programs, “Service learning projects provide for a more educated and informed student who can use this experience to think critically about the theory of an issue, the real-world outcomes and how to change them by hands-on practice.”

Chowdhury and Salinas returned from India wanting to do more service learning and began planning a trip to South America.

When both received grants—Salinas was awarded an ILR travel grant and Dipabali received a Cornell Tradition grant—their visit to Ecuador this winter was funded.

They were aided in the organizational stages of the trip by UBELONG, a Cornell alumni-founded social enterprise. UBELONG helps students participate in affordable volunteer experiences while immersing them in local culture through lodging with host families.

In Ecuador, Chowdhury and Salinas worked with a school on the outskirts of Quito. They taught students English in order to help them with future job opportunities.

Due to the lack of funding Ecuadorian schools receive, most institutions cannot afford to pay English teachers, making volunteers a vital resource for students, said the ILR students.

Salinas said, “We were again exposed to the harsh realities of poverty plaguing developing communities. Our experience working with the school demonstrated that there was a dire need for educational support.”

The South America trip spurred Salinas and Chowdhury to again turn their attention to India, this time with the guidance of Dr. Ramaswami “Balu” Balasubramaniam, founder of the Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement, ILR’s service learning partner in India.

Their new project, aimed at creating a replicable model to identify vulnerable youth and alleviate child labor and intergenerational poverty, is still in its early stages. They plan to travel to India this summer to complete their research.

“We would like to promote that service learning and being a responsible global citizen extends beyond not only the ILR classroom, but also beyond graduation,” Salinas and Chowdhury said in an email.